A couple of weeks ago Pat Cummins spoke about the tangible effect of the Ashes on how he viewed playing for Australia, a feeling he has gone back to a lot since the Newlands ball tampering scandal. Put simply, how wide an effect it can have:
"It's not until you get on a bus to the ground and you see all the Australian flags and people dressed up, walking to the game, that it really hits you, because you know it on tour as well, it's such a bubble you're in, hotel to ground, hotel to ground, and you just do that for so long, sometimes you do lose sight of how much it means to so many different people."
The "bubble" is a common term in sport, generally referring to the space in which the players are cocooned while trying to find their best performance. But it has also been evident in the story broken by Fairfax Media about the sacking of a Cricket Australia (CA) government-relations staffer, Angela Williamson, for what a spokesman called "offensive comments" that "contravene the organisation's social media policy".
Some background. Williamson had referred on Twitter to the Tasmanian government rejecting a motion to re-establish abortion services in the state's public hospitals on June 13, describing the health minister Michael Ferguson as "most irresponsible ... gutless and reckless". In January she had criticised the government's position on abortions, calling it "disgraceful", and was subsequently the target of a government staffer sending this critique to CA.
But it was only the more recent online criticism that attracted the attention of Cricket Tasmania and by extension CA, leading to correspondence on June 29 from the governing body's head of government relations, Grant Poulter. The state association's Board had lost confidence in her and her position was "untenable". Williamson's lawyer, Kamal Faroque, outlined their concerns about being dismissed for publicly airing her opinion.
"Those views, and her raising them, have nothing to do with Cricket Australia or Cricket Tasmania, they have nothing to do with the work that she was performing and the question needs to be asked about why she has lost her job for this."
"Why" is the key question, and one that is currently being asked across Australia. As with most things in the world of sport, or politics, or in this case both, the "why" relates to money. Specifically, the battle for a finite amount of government funding among the nation's major sports. Over the past few years, CA's government-relations department has grown exponentially, from being the responsibility of one staffer to that of a whole department with at least one manager based in each of the six states - Williamson being Tasmania's since late 2016.
Last year, about the same time as the ill-tempered pay dispute between CA and the Australian Cricketers' Association, the governing body completed its first comprehensive infrastructure review, with findings that painted a dim picture of cricket facilities around the country. In particular, it raised the glaring lack of provisions for women. These findings were used as a weapon in the pay war arguing for the breakup of the existing pay model, as well as an entreaty to state and federal governments to pitch in further to fund the required development.
Added to this was the fact that among all the state associations, Cricket Tasmania has been in less than glowing shape recently. Most spinally, this has been related to living with a vast reduction in CA funding relative to the other, bigger states. When CA's financial model was reviewed and changed in 2011-12, Tasmania lost out most because it had previously enjoyed a 1/6th share of broadcast rights revenue despite having only 1/48th of Australia's population. While in dollar terms all states were promised a "none worse off" clause, logic always followed that the smallest state would lose out in terms of the strategic funding decided upon by the CA Board, which has chosen to invest most urgently in the vast expanses of regional Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria.
Meanwhile, Cricket Tasmania's annual grant from the state government has remained unchanged at AUD 560,000 for the past 15 years, a point outlined by their chief executive Nick Cummins when he unveiled an annual financial loss of AUD 768,000 for 2016-17. "I would observe the funding we've got from the government has been static for the past 15 years and we've gone from one men's team to two men's teams in the Tigers (first-class and List A team) and the Hurricanes (in the BBL) and an entire women's program," he told the Hobart Mercury last September. "I think we need to fall in line. It is not about cutting the funding to any other sport, but certainly the funding needs to be reflective of the level of exposure that we give to Tasmania and across the board in terms of participation as well."
Better news arrived at the end of April, when it was confirmed that the state government had heard the pleas for better infrastructure for women, and chosen to commit no less than AUD 10 million to projects over the next two years. "Audits conducted by AFL Tasmania and Cricket Australia found approximately 80 per cent of their facilities failed to be female friendly, despite more than 20,700 females taking part in their sports," the sports minister Jacquie Petrusma said.
"The Levelling the Playing Field Grant Program will provide more appropriate change rooms, lockers, toilets, shower facilities and amenities for female coaches, officials, volunteers and players. Priority will be given to facilities used for football and cricket but all sports and their organisations are welcome to apply."
This was a major win for cricket, particularly that one word, "priority". Williamson, of course, played a key role in helping to secure it. Another win was in securing an extra AUD 240,000 for the coming season to help fund the women's program, raising the association's annual grant to AUD 800,000.
But the circumstances around her departure spoke strongly of a state association and a governing body concerned about ensuring the preservation of that funding, and the securing of more in future years, above anything else. Certainly above defending the right of an individual to express an opinion unpopular with those she was employed to help extract funding from.
If any further reminder about the funding wars were required, the substance of a July 27 media release on CA's corporate website provided it: the Queensland Cricket chief executive Max Walters imploring that state government's stadium task force to spend more money urgently on upgrade work at the ageing Gabba. "While we are absolutely committed to supporting this process," he said, "we believe that more direct and immediate relief for cricket is required than is outlined in the interim report, particularly as involves the Gabba."
That, then, is the bubble in which it was deemed necessary to sack Angela Williamson, full as it is with competitive instincts about funding and high-minded intentions about growing the game for all who wish to play it. But outside the bubble, all that could be readily seen was this: a woman publicly expressing frustration about the inaccessibility of abortions in Tasmania being sacked for "offensive comments". To paraphrase Pat Cummins, somewhere along the way Cricket Australia lost sight of that.